Math Curriculum in High School

Parent Q&A

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  • My daughter is a junior in HS and is currently taking AP Calc BC. Her HS offers AP Stat so technically, she doesn’t max out with math offered at her school after this year. Her HS counselor also told her she isn’t maxed out because she could take linear algebra or differential equations at our local JC. But she would rather take AP Psych (a very popular class with good teacher but an elective) than AP Stat (which she’s not very interested in with mediocre teachers). The HS counselor strongly recommends she takes AP Stat next year to show 4 years of math to keep her competitive edge since many colleges state “4 years recommended” for math.

    I would think that with AP Calc BC that already shows she is capable of higher level math, colleges wouldn’t really care if she didn’t take math her senior year. She is not interested in CS, engineering, or hard sciences and is thinking of pre-Med. Am I being naive or is there another matrix that colleges work with that I am not aware? 

    Aside from the fact that I’ve been weary of the AP labeling of rigorous classes and the idea of putting together a perfect portfolio for the colleges, I would rather my daughter takes classes that she enjoys, especially during her senior year. She thought she would enjoy math and was thinking about taking linear algebra during her senior year. Now, after a year of calc, she thinks math is not in her future. Would she really be limiting her college selection by taking this opportunity to explore her interests rather than trying to meet college expectations?

    I think you answered your question":  "I would rather my daughter takes classes that she enjoys" and "she would rather take AP Psych".  Gaining a better understanding of what your interests are is priceless.  Good luck to her!

    If your student as a junior is currently taking AP Calc BC, that assumes that she completed high school level math, like algebra in middle school. Colleges will consider that middle school class as one year of a high school math level course. You can open a test account of a UC application and see that there is a place to enter middle school math or language other than English courses. I agree that your daughter should pursue classes of most interest to her. 

    One thing you and your daughter could ask yourselves... if a college would eliminate her from consideration based on that one thing (4 years of math vs. 3), is it the right college for her? What kind of college experience is she hoping to have?

    My impression is that one huge thing colleges are looking for is evidence that a student has agency in their own learning and will be prepared for the independence that comes with college. (i.e., taking responsibility for their own learning, directing their own studies/scholarship to a greater extent than in K-12, etc.) So if this is reflected elsewhere in her essays/application, I wouldn't worry too much about taking a 4th year of math, especially (as you say) when she has already completed the course that is kind of widely regarded as the capstone of a successful high school math experience.

    Keep encouraging your daughter to do what she loves and explore what she's curious about! That will prepare her for college better than anything else.

    No, that's silly, she's already taken the equivalent of more than 4 years of HS math and does not need any additional math for pre-med. She should take classes she's interested in. Good idea to take a community college class though.

    Your daughter should take classes she enjoys. Think of it as a life lesson- she should follow her interests and not a prescribed path by the counselor. I promise you, she will have plenty of choices for college. 

    What a great attitude for you & your daughter to have!

    Whenmy daughter didn’t get the “best” score she “could” have on the ACT, her tutor & I encouraged her to take it again. She pushed back and said “I’ll get into a college commensurate with my grades & this score & my application.” (AND there’s NO WAY I’m sitting for another 7 hours -with accommodations- for a stupid test again!) She got into 1 of her reach schools and has been super happy there! Seems like a happy secure girl wrote a happy secure application!

    I agree with the prior post. If your daughter wants to take AP Psych, she should take it. Learning to go with your interests is so important in today's cookie cutter, competitive culture. Besides, it will probably reflect on her as a well-rounded person. And it's always good to have a great professor! They are valuable and rare. All the best for her and you!

    The question is what kind of college she is aiming for.  If she wants MIT, Caltech, UC Berkeley EECS, etc., with admission rates of approximately 5% or less, many students have taken math beyond AP Calc BC. These students often take a class at a community college, though some elite high schools offer these classes. Colleges will be more impressed by a year of linear algebra at a community college than AP Psych.  Ask the admissions departments of the colleges she wishes to attend.  How committed is she to pre-med?  Pursuing advanced math at college would make her application stand out, and starting early will help that.  (You might think I'm getting ahead of myself, but I know an excellent student from Berkeley High who did well as bio major at a very selective UC, had a decent MCAT score, etc., and was turned down by every medical school.)  It's good to know the hard facts of admissions.

    I can't advise on the college admissions questions, but as a computer scientist who hated calculus and enjoyed linear algebra, I wouldn't write off linear algebra as an option. Maybe she could check it out during the summer before senior year? In general, I am inclined to agree with your outlook about exploring interests, but I hope that at some point in the future she takes a stat class, hopefully from a better teacher. I pushed my kids to take college statistics courses because statistical literacy is so helpful to becoming an engaged and informed citizen, and it's also important for understanding studies in many professions including health sciences.

    My son is in somewhat the same boat. He took BC as a 10th grader and wound up taking Multivariable Calculus this year as an 11th grader. We have a (paid) college counselor for him and she said that he should take math as a 12th grader since colleges want to see that kids are challenging themselves. He is taking it through CTY starting right after AP tests so he can get a bunch of it done over the summer and have a chill senior year.

    MVC was hard and it was a pretty painful experience doing it in lockdown when motivation is already low. At least linear algebra isn't such a hard class. (I remember MVC as one of my least favorite classes and linear algebra as not very hard.) I would think Statistics is also a good bet if she wants to do medicine, though maybe it is better to wait to take it in college.

  • Calculus AB or BC?

    (4 replies)

    My 7th grader is taking pre-calculus this year and I'm wondering if he should take Calculus AB or BC next year. So far we have prioritized him being with his friends over going at the right pace for him, but this year he got bored in class so his teacher just started him with the pre-calculus curriculum which he is doing well with and nailing all the tests. (He already had the necessary background from doing extra work on his own.) So, for next year I'm wondering if we should put him in AB or BC. He is quite good at math so I'm not worried about him getting the concepts, I mostly worry about the amount of homework and the stress associated with the course. Thoughts on which would be better for him? Does BC have lots more homework or more stress? If he takes AB will he then take BC? Does BC cover a lot of the same material as AB? I am 100% sure he will easily get the concepts in either class the first time around since he's been doing different types of college level math for several years now.

    We are renting a house in a different district this year which has a 7-12 school (which is why he is able to do the pre-calculus) but next year he will go back to his old school and friends. He will need to go to the high school for math regardless of which math class he takes and I'm wondering if it is better to go at the beginning or end of the day? He typically rides his bike to school with his friends and has friends over after school. So is it better to go in the morning and miss the socialization on the way to school but not miss out on kids doing stuff together after school or is it better to start the day off on the right foot and go to school with his friends? The middle school and high school are about a mile apart so he can easily get himself between them by walking or biking.

    The responses to your Calculus AB/BC questions may vary by school and teacher.  My daughter took (AP) Calculus BC at Berkeley High last year and now proctors for a Berkeley High Calculus AB class.  She said the two classes cover somewhat different material, but BC covers more and moves at a faster pace.  If your son is well-prepared and quick to pick things up, as it sounds like he is, he probably should just do BC.  Feel free to email if you have more specific questions.

    If your son is doing well in pre-calculus without too much effort then I think it would be most natural for him to take Calc BC.  Calc AB is really just a watered down version of Calc BC.

    Can I ask what school(s) he's been going to that allowed him to accelerate in math?  I was not aware that ANY Berkeley schools allow kids to take accelerated math classes.  (Maybe you're in Piedmont?  or a very accommodating private school?)   I have friends who were thinking of temporarily relocating from Cambridge MA to Berkeley, but scrapped their plans when they realized that the local Berkeley school would not honor the fact that their kids were accelerated in math in Cambridge.  (Basically they were told that if a child is in 7th grade, she/he must take 7th grade math at that school.  Ridiculous.)

    BC will cover the material from AB in the first semester (or part of the year) and "C" in the second, so BC is more accelerated than AB. I typically recommend that my students (I have worked as a math tutor for about 13 yrs.) who have time to take both classes (as in, aren't seniors their first year of Calc) do so because the second class moves very quickly and AB provides a more solid foundation. That said, if you're confident that he will have no trouble with any of it, there's nothing wrong with doing BC only. I would not expect BC to have any more homework than AB--just "harder" problems, and stress level will depend on how he does with understanding the concepts, which for most people are quite a step out of the box from things they've learned in Pre-Calc. The first 1/2 of BC can be a bit boring for students who have taken AB already, but after the first month or 6 weeks of class they do start to delve into some new topics/techniques that aren't covered in the AB class.  

    :Good luck!  I know it's a challenge guiding a student who falls outside of the "box" of classes that are typically offered for his age group, but there are so many good options, I don't think there is necessarily a right or wrong choice here.  :)

    Calc AB. He has plenty of time to take BC which is very time-consuming. Easily one-hour a day of homework. Also, it is more important that he learns calculus well, than that he completes it while still in middle-school. I assume you live near  UCB  because he'll need to continue math there (the math at community college isn't designed for strong students.)

  • Algebra class online

    (5 replies)

    I am looking for an accredited online algebra class that my 13 year old could take. He will be enrolled full-time at his regular public school at the same time. So online homeschooling programs don't work unless they allow you to take just one class. And Khan Academy is not accredited. Any suggestions for good online classes would be appreciated.

    BYU offers UC approved online courses:

    I know it sounds weird but BYU is the go-to for online HS classes for reasonable price. My niece took all of her HS math this way (and got into a very competitive college.) You just need to arrange a proctor for the final which is not hard, they can give you a list of proctors in SF or a teacher or counselor at your son's HS can easily become one.

    My son goes to a private, alternative high school, and when he took Algebra 2, it was through an online program called, ALEKS.  It was the only class he took online (with a teacher to help him with questions).

    Did you know that high school students (even middle school!) can take community college classes for free? I'm not an expert in this, but will know more after our What Can Community College Do For You? Program this Saturday, August 27th, 3pm at Berkeley Public Library North Branch.

    I did check in a quick search and found that College of Alameda does have some math classes online (not sure if these are free but it does have algebra classes on the list) here:

    Try searching all the Peralta colleges to find what you're looking for and all your options. 

    I think this is a great idea! I took a community college course in math when I was in high school and loved it (and math was not my strength). 

    Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about our upcoming program. kmandalay [at] 

    Stanford has online classes for K-12.  We looked into it for our son but would up taking him to a community college.  (He was the same age.)  Taking classes at the community college at this age will also give him college credits he can use toward college graduation.   Be sure to work with your counselor.  My son had 9 units in math including 3 units in upper division math from UC Berkeley and was told he had not meet the required math requirements to graduate from high school.  As I remember we had to write an appeal to the Department of Education explaining if our child can get an A in an upper division math class from UC Berkeley and As from community college match classes it should fulfill the high school math requirements.

    My son attended in person.  But if your son wants to attend online he can enroll in any of California's community colleges.

  • Mathway - cheating or learning?

    (2 replies)

    My high schooler purchased a subscription to Mathway (for $9.99 / mo.)  I'm told (adamantly) that is a critical aid for doing homework.  I wonder. Is it a learning tool or more like Sparknotes (a shortcut/cheating)??    

    All depends on how it's used.  It solves math problems, and provided basic canned explanations.  Just depends if he reads the explanations and understands what he's read.  Those things never worked for me. 

    I also agree that it depends on how it is used, but it definitely can be used to cheat as the paid Mathway service allows all of the steps of the math problem to be revealed. This means that Mathway does more than just give you the answer. Without a paid subscription Mathway would only show the final answer. This means that if a teacher says "show your work" you can get that by paying for Mathway. Essentially, your kid would likely not have to do any actual work to complete homework assignments since they paid for Mathway.

    That said, I used Mathway in my own college course (I had to take a math course to get my degree - and math isn't my forte!) and I found the ability to view the steps extremely helpful in learning how to come to the correct answer.

    Ultimately you will be able to tell if your child is using Mathway in a way that enhances learning, rather than just for cheating, by their scores on their in-class math quizzes. If your kid does well on the in-class assignments where they can't use Mathway, that to me would suggest they are using the website constructively. If they are doing poorly on the in-class work, that could mean they are just using Mathway's "view steps" feature as more of a way to cheat on homework than as a tool for learning. 

    Hope this helps!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How hard to push math with disinterested 12 year old?

Jan 2013

How hard do I push math and science on my daughter?

I have a 12 year old who gets straight As. At this point she excels equally in all areas. However her interests are leaning towards liberal arts areas. She is interested in politics, public speaking, and languages. For example, when looking at summer programs, she wants to take Latin and acting, rather than, say, marine biology.

I find myself torn. On the one hand, there are so many wonderful opportunities in the sciences, I would love to see her on track to pursue some area of science or technology over the long term.

On the other hand, I don't want to send the message that her own talents and interests are somehow ''wrong''.

How hard do I push? This is exactly the age when girls often give up on math and science. While she's not giving up, she seems to be kind of drifting away.

I am doubly torn as this is a microcosm of a conflict between my husband and myself. My engineer hubby is all about science. I, despite coming from a family of scientists (and doing advanced work in math and science in high school), majored in international relations and went into business. I make a good living at a job I enjoy and am good at. But when it comes down to it, my husband doesn't really respect my job (even though I make more than he does) because it's not science or technology. And I have to admit, sometimes my job is not as intellectually stimulating as I would like in a perfect world.

As you can see, this is a very loaded topic at our house. Do I force her to take science classes this summer to keep the peace, and keep her Dad happy? She wouldn't hate it, she would do fine and have a good time, and she is a really good kid. If I say that the decision is science camp, she will accept with pretty good graces. But it's not what she wants. Help! not a PhD, but no dummy either

I don't normally respond to messages, but I really felt compelled to respond to this one. Your daughter is 12! She's not even in high school yet. Why would you need to push about anything? She's already getting straight As. At 12 her summers should be spent having fun - not taking Latin (unless that's what she would consider fun). She has the rest of her life to ''produce''.

Give her (and yourself) a break. Think about all the change that you went through between 12 and 18 - she might love drama now and love physics by the time she goes off to college. Or she might stay loving drama and major in it and be poor for awhile but be creatively fulfilled. It's all OK...All you have to do is make sure you support her in the areas where she shows promise and interest and let her know that you love her for who she is.

It's her life - she has to live it for herself and not for you. Relax a bit with her - she sounds like a great kid - you're so very lucky. She'll be fine! Relaxed Mama

I don't really have much advice, but I just wanted to say I feel for you and have gone through the same thing. My daughter is now 17 and has always had diverse interests and strengths. I too saw the science side slipping away at one pt and worried about societal influences vs her ''real'' interests (whatever those are) but now as a senior, it's still there.

The route we have taken is to be quite hands-off as far as what we required her to do/take. So if you require a math/science activity this summer, maybe give her a list of options to choose from and also let her choose another activity. Perhaps just say to her, ''I like it that you are a well-rounded person and I want that to continue, so please choose one from column A and one from column B'' This may be trickier, but I think it's important to (try to) get her dad on the same page as you--valuing all her skills and interests and not pushing too hard for math and science--cause that could really backfire. best wishes

You're doing a great job thinking about this from all sorts of angles. I'm a math/stats prof and mother of a 10 year old girl, so I am very aware of the maze girls have to go through. Great you want to keep all options open.

It doesn't require math & science camps this summer. If she doesn't fall behind in school she will have the right foundation to use it once she likes to. Puzzles and deep thinking are always good. How about philosophy or logic if she's more into verbal things at the moment?

What it does require, is that she learns to discover her real interest and talents, believes in herself and avoids internalising prejudices. If she does go down a male dominated path, a stable emotional basis will help with hurdles and comments. Rachel Simmons book ''The curse of the good girl'' is very insightful.

Yes, there are great opportunities for math/science/eng career wise. Also, there are a lot of opportunities that require quantitative skills but are a bit broader: epidemiology, industrial design, cognitive psychology etc. Give her access to the information about this. Motivation can come from appealing examples: you can explain physics using the an oil pump or the heart system, the choice will impact which kids are interested in it. I could teach the entire K-12 math curriculum using examples exclusively from knitting! I'd not worry if she's not in love with math and science right now. There may be due to a lot of social factors and the dullness of school math (in many though not all places).

There may be an opportunity for your husband and daughter to bond doing math/sci/eng activities. (If there's a chance he can inspire her and let her explore, rather than lecturing and correcting her - girls can supersensitive but can learn to build on achievement and learn from failure). Or you do science activities with her - if you're not into that, trust the instructions and let you daughter put on the smarty pants. The advantage of doing things at home is that it's away from the peer girls and the boasting/pushy boys - sorry about the clich\xc3\x83\xc2\xa9s, it's a very rough summary of the situation middle school age.

A few random things: (girl friendly video on a new technology) Books by Marilyn Burns

I personally was always doing okay with math & science in school, but didn't particularly like it until about age 15 when I had a teacher letting us solve more abstract and complex problems in math, science became more theoretical. Julia

I told my daughter after the open house at her middle school that I had signed her up for Math Club and that she needed to go to the Club the very next day, but the truth was that I did not sign her up. She was not very happy, but she went anyway. She found a couple friends there and went to the Math Club every day ever since. She turned from a kid who received only certificates of participation the first year and - in her first competitive math contest to many trophies and medals in various math competitions two years later. Now, she is one of four kids in the senior math team at her high school even though she is only a freshman.

I never realized that our actions could have a profound impact on her life, but one of my tricks changed her attitude on math and science. You need to find an opportunity for her to participate, and every one needs a nurturing environment, if the school does not offer it. Berkeley Math Circle may be one, but it may be tough at the beginning. My feeling is that your daughter has been influenced by you more than your engineer husband so she has the same feeling toward the math. A father who tricked his daughter to math

I really enjoyed your thoughtful and caring letter. I am responding as a ''soft'' scientist, i.e. health professional who is in private practice.

Firstly, I have an admitted bias against the restraints of school and the inability of many kids, particularly those who are deeply gifted in one area or those who just have a wide range of interests, to delve into those interests in any supported way. My own son took most of the classes that mattered to him outside of school and those are what has helped him develop his career, as someone who blends the arts and sciences in computer graphics. I saw summer camps as a place where he could truly feel free to deeply pursue his own interests and meet like minded individuals.

Secondly, one never truly knows where pursuing your own interests will take you or how it will aid you in the future. The Latin I took in high school has aided me in deciphering medical terms, or at least knowing how to approach breaking down those terms. The plays in which I participated helped me learn to get along with groups of people in pressured situations with deadlines and to put on a pleasant demeanor i.e. act even when confronted with very difficult, demanding patients. I also learned I wasn't very good at acting so never had that as an unfulfilled desire.

Your daughter is only 12. She of course needs your guidance but if she has a strong desire for a particular summer camp, I would let her choose. The pressure for limiting one's options only gets worse as she moves into secondary education so giving her some room to breathe and an understanding from you that her opinions really matter is a good counterpoint to her own desires being constrained during the school year. Admitting my bias here: children need limits and guidance but they also need creativity and some understanding of who they are apart from other's agendas. chiliconmom

I can sense you really want what is best for your daughter but feel torn about her ability to be successful in the world. I would argue that there are many ways to define success, and It might be wise to reconsider this question. I know many successful people in the areas of math and science and I know many in the world of politics and public service and the arts. Your daughter is smart, and my guess is she knows herself pretty well, as she is resisting going into a direction that is counter to what she is drawn to.

I have worked in advising at Cal for many years, and I cannot tell you how many miserable students I have seen in my office over the years because their well-meaning and educated parents pushed them in direction they were not suited for. Many were treated for depression, fell behind in school and just plain did poorly. Some dropped out entirely.

Both of my children are more artistic than scientific, and much as I know they might make more money down the line and be more ''successful'' in a society that values status & making money should they choose a more ''practical'' way to go, I hope they find what they love to do. My sense is this is what you want for your daughter, too, but you are getting an unhappy message from your spouse. I have never made a lot of money myself, but I feel I have done a lot of good in my life by helping people. What is a life? Making a difference, and hopefully in a good way.

I hope you will rethink your own success, too. Your husband's lack of respect for what you do may make you fearful of how he will view your daughter if she does not choose the same path he did. And of course, he is not giving her positive messages, and that is of concern. Be strong, Mama. Let your daughter find her own way. Different not better

The answer is that you can TRY to force your good student liberal-arts leaning daughter into science or math camps or extra classes, but that would not likely increase her interest. And it may make her actually hate those topics. What you can do is open the door, inform her of fun options that you can afford (time and money wise) and then let her figure out which doors to step through. Who knows, perhaps in high school or college, of her own accord she will be drawn to math or science or engineering. But if you force her now then she may rebel.

Perhaps your husband's bias, and your perception of his bias is what needs work most. Honor your career choice and set a great example for your daughter. Where would we be without smart, well educated writers and artists? Sciencey artist


Girl loves math but not sure about major or career

Sept 2012

My daughter is a sophomore in college and went in as a math major. Math is truly her first language. But her school has a coop component, and it's intensifying her lack of clarity about a career path. She's never seen herself as an engineer, actuary, accountant, academic etc. Math majors at her school are a small cohort, and she was not feeling very encouraged about coop jobs in math. Math's exclusive focus on theory, and her concern about her future job prospects made her start to think about other majors. In May, she changed to electrical engineering (EE), more jobs, lots of coop placements, and it's the most mathematical engineering area. She took summer school to catch up on the intro classes. Now, she's overwhelmed by the workload, and is worried that an EE career will not actually allow her to focus on math. The EE lectures are interesting to her, involving more concepts and math, but the hours a week of labs, which she feels much less competent in, she hates. She thinks back to last year and how much she enjoyed her math classes, and wonders if she made the right choice. (Hard work is OK when you know what it's for.) She is working with her advisor on whether she is dropping a class to ease her load, or perhaps switching back to math, though it's late in the semester to be doing that, in terms of catching up. She's very unclear right now, and pretty demoralized. I've tried to tell her that whatever she decides for this Fall will be OK.

My main question to you good people is whether this is just a trial and error and reflection process she will have to work her way through or whether there are any useful outside advisors or resources that can help her understand how to optimize her college experience while also preparing for work, especially if those resources don't exist (or aren't good enough) at her school? And how much of this is her learning more about what possible jobs use math? How much is her knowing more about different academic fields of study? And how much is someone taking the time to learn about her, to help her make the right decisions?

Otherwise so far, I have mainly tried to encourage her to realize that it is normal for many people not to know what work they will do after college, hoping to make some space for her to be OK with not knowing for sure while she explores. And to reassure her that if she spends a semester in EE and then goes back to math after all, it's not necessarily a waste, as she might have wondered later whether it would have been a better major. thanks for any thoughts, mama bear

I don't have specific advice except to say that what you are describing is truly the benefit of the Coop opportunities your daughter's college offers and what I wish more schools did. Alternating between school and real work experiences supports students in navigating choices while they can still make course (literally and figuratively) corrections. So many college grads get out into their chosen fields only to realize it wasn't what they thought they were prepping for afterall. There's some interesting research about what employers get out of it too (grow their own employees) and students (low risk trial of different paths). Good luck! Coop/work-based learning fan

Has she taken any computer science classes? Computer science is even richer in mathematical concepts than EE, and there are entire careers marrying the two, e.g., developing algorithms to apply advanced math to real-world problems, from climate modeling, to investment, to real-time robotics. Have her look at the CS graduate degree requirements at schools like Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and MIT, and the work of some of the doctoral students, and I suspect she'll see lots of echoes of the math she loves. (And diversions into other fields are always good... there're mathematicians applying their knowledge of dance, drama, or classic literature, to make a difference in the world.) Another Math-Daughter Dad

Knowing absolutely nothing about your daughter but what you posted, I'd encourage to do what makes her happy, which seems to be math and not EE. There's no guarantee that one major will be economically better than the other, and you can make a living with either (demand for high school math teachers, to name one work option, will never be exhausted). So why not do what she wants now, and change later if she wants something different later?

My personal experience, for whatever anecdotal value it has: Math major in college. Not a Ph.D.-quality student, and didn't go to graduate school in math. Got a job in an engineering company with my math major - and quit after a year because I didn't like it (sounds like your daughter in her EE classes). A year later, went to grad school in a different area, albeit one that uses math (energy policy). It all worked out well, economically as well as personally, and looking back from 30+ years later I have no regrets. dmarcus

Another Mom referred me to a university site with good information about how to connect majors to careers: This Mom also recommended career planning. There was an earlier post recommending Toni LIttlestone, 510-528-2221, or tonilittlestone [at] You should be proud of having a daughter who loves Maths. Good luck to you and to her. judith

Re: Girl loves math but not sure about major or career Hello. I am a physician/scientist and your daughter's situation caught my attention. This is the time for your daughter to explore her passion by learning about opportunities for mathematicians in the real world. Although her math professors have chosen an academic career, she may be able to talk with her math professors about other paths other colleagues in graduate school chose. Grad students in her math department may also have insight into different paths in applied math that they would like to pursue.

If she is not sure about a career in electrical enginerring, she may want to explore applied mathematics; it is an important tool in many areas of science. My sister has a master's in math from UC Berkeley and was recruited for a summer internship to work at the Jet Propulsion Lab. She has been there ever since. She has used her skills in applied mathematical analysis to work on a variety of fascinating projects such as analysis of radiofrequency datato look for evidence of new planets (Planet X). Most recently, she is part of the navigation team that determines trajectories for unmanned space craft landings (such as the Mars Rover). Another colleague of mine has a daughter who is an undergraduate in applied math. She did an undergraduate summer internship in a prestigious university in the east coast working with biostaticians/epidemiologists in the school of public health who use mathematical models to study associations between levels of air pollution and heart attacks. A friend has a son at MIT who majored in economics which has a lot of mathematical modeling and is now in graduate school developing (math) models for climate change.

There are lots of opportunities for math in the real world. Good luck to your daughter! anon

I started out as a business major in college, but math was my true love. I switched to majoring in math my sophmore year. I had always planned to go to grad school and during my undergraduate years I fell in love with statistics. As a grad student in statistics I was never lacking in jobs or internships and in my career I've had fulfilling work that I never could have imagined in advance. Also of relevance: depending on the major requirements of your daughter's college, there may be enough electives that it doesn't hurt that she might miss out on a year of math; none of my first year business courses counted towards my math degree.

Regarding EE: I think she should put her discomfort in the labs into perspective by talking to classmates and teachers. The latter, especially, might give her their opinion of whether what she is experiencing is common or normal. A potential degree in EE is nothing to throw away lightly if she really enjoys the classes. Francesca

Mama Bear,

Suffice it to say that the focus on constant achievement in many parts of our culture at present can make it very challenging for people to take any path characterized by both short-term costs and long-term benefits. In my opinion, that's what your daughter is struggling with now.

It's okay to go to college and to do something you love, with no concern about what will happen after graduation. Indeed, many would join me in arguing that that's a far better use of time than any college career focused chiefly on the post-graduation job.

Math majors go on to do an incredibly wide variety of work in life. I say: take advantage of this opportunity to pursue a genuine passion, and just trust that everything will work out. Remember, too: not everyone has such a clear sense of what's an enjoyable way to spend one's time. I advise her to relish it.

And if there really is a concern about whether to major in math, a path that many find both low-stress and highly effective is: take the classes you want to take, and pick the major that best fits those classes, rather than trying to force the plan the other way around. Hope this helps. Best of luck! Wes

As an applied mathematician I think everything she is saying/feeling is correct. Math is fun (at least for some of us) but often very theoretical and challenging to get a good job. EE is mathematical but not always a good fit for a mathematician -- as she's seen in the labs. I'd suggest she look around for interesting areas that use math (and are similar to a math major) but have interesting applications and job opportunities. For example, operations research, genetics, statistics, and biostatistics all have a similar ''feel'' to math. Also, parts of economics, computer science and genomics are very mathematical. Many schools even have degrees that mix math with another field. (Even if she switches back to math she'll likely find a job that mixes math with something else when she graduates.)

I'd suggest she look around and find the right fit -- I think it'll be be worth the effort. ef

For the parent of the college sophomore who loves math ...what else is your daughter interested in? Some careers that involve applied math and/or statistics (and I think she should definitely take some statistics classes, which she'll probably find fun, and which have many real world applications) include: high level modeling for the investment community (a friend's brother who has a PhD in math from Cal makes a handsome living doing this); creating and refining algorithms for applications such as Amazon or EBay or Netflix, e.g. ''if you liked x, you might also like y''; online dating websites like employ high level math/programming people to create and refine their algorithms to help people find others with whom they might hit it off. Quantitative market researchers use statistics to analyze human behavior and opinions and these findings are used for many different purposes: new product development, advertising, pricing decisions, market segmentation-- that's a good career if she finds studying human behavior interesting. I myself don't know enough about math to know which courses have the most practical applications, but I would certainly think your daughter should be able to research this on her own via the Internet, at least to some degree. many people are happy to be interviewed about their jobs. Joyce

Here is a free, fun, quick online Meyers-Briggs temperament test that gives you the results and some career suggestions right away (you don't have to give them an email address): All the best.

To start out, I just want to say that it is GREAT to have girls into math!!

As to the specific issues, I support most of what people wrote last week, but let's parse through what you said. First of all I am assuming that your daughter is doing EE not EECS not to mention CS. (Now this of course varies depending on the school.) On this front, she should really, really try CS. It sounds as if she feels as if she is floundering in the labs, well that happens to alot of students, but if she is not happy what's the point. It's not as if she has fallen in love with German Expressionist literature. There really are jobs for mathematicians, which brings me to...

Second, jobs in a coop program may have zero correlation with the labor market as such. Why do I say this? Well there is unbelievable demand for mathematicians today--data analysis, so called big data is one of the driving trends in business and computing today. So much so some CS programs are putting in a stat component in their required course work. (the job title is ''data scientist'' and has been dubbed the sexiest job in tech, by the preeminent EE magazine-IEEE Spectrum.) I obviously don't know her but it seems as if the combination algorithmic and computation thinking, as the best data scientists do should keep her happily engaged. It is curious that she and mostly her counselor missed that.

Now this is all applied math. I am assuming that she does not have an aversion to applied math, given that you say that she likes the mathematical parts of engineering. If she were my daughter, and my daughter is similarly inclined, my advice would (was to mine)take enough CS to be competent, a minor might be enough, and go the full monty in stats, or at least as much as she can tolerate. (On the CS side, there is a reasonable probability that she will really start to like coding. )

Go back to math, get out of the EE lab if she hates it; take some CS courses.

Also mom, don't worry and tell her not to worry, even in the decimation of public finances today, there are jobs for math teachers. IT dad with Mathy daughter


Just how important is math?

May 2011

We're having a big, deep issue in our household around the study of math and the acquisition of math skills. Our daughter is a high school junior and, due to a series of events beyond her control (moving after fourth grade to small, three room school house, accelerating through one grade mid-year - half of eighth grade then half of ninth - then returning to Bay Area and starting ninth grade over with peers due to move) her math education has been choppy and disrupted to say the least. Also, as it turns out, her way of perceiving math is very conceptual, and she has not been taught in a way that speaks to her learning style. Now she is ''behind'' and her self-esteem is really suffering. She is now in the hands of a great tutor and is working hard to make up for lost time as she prepares for her SATs. I similarly had a tough time in math all the way through, and joke about with her. Her math tutor even expanded on the joke by saying his daughter has a ''math allergy.'' We have said these things to her to make her feel more at ease, less alone and ''stupid.'' On the teen digest recently, I posted a question about how to help her with her deep negativity toward math. Posters resoonded with many thoughtful comments, including that this is my fault for making jokes about it and that I contributed toward her antipathy. When I asked my daughter about this, she basically said, thank god you are not a math genius mom - that would make me feel even more alone. So here's the question: at the end of the day, how much does math matter? I sail through life pretty successfully and I don't even balance my checkbook. Granted, my daughter has a job to do: she needs to do her best on the SAT and she needs to get into a great college and perhaps the world is a different place than when I went to UCLA a hundred or so years ago, and math mastery may be more integral to success. For what it's worth, she excels in the humanities. She is asking this tough question, how important is math, and I am trying to come up with a thoughtful response. Literate, not so numerate

On the most basic level mathematics is a way of understanding the world -- it is the underpinning of technology, medicine, and the statistics you see everyday in the newspaper/online. If you don't understand some basic mathematics it is challenging to be an informed decision maker either about personal life (i.e. medical crises, how much a car loan will actually cost you, whether it makes more sense to buy or rent), or political life. In terms of occupations, in addition to writing off careers in science and medicine, avoiding mathematics makes it extremely difficult to work in the social sciences, psychology, or urban studies. Statistics is used in history and textual analysis as well.

In addition to its use in various applications, mathematics trains the mind in thinking analytically. I would encourage your daughter (and you) not to let go of this strategy for understanding how the world works so quickly. At the very least she should take some kind of Statistics class (without calculus, if necessary), and may be required to do so in college. Mom of a girl math geek

Math is important. In my job (lawyer) it is much more important than you might think. It's not all Perry Mason in the courtroom but reading and analyzing business documents -- which, guess what, involves money, which in turn, involves math. This is even more true for corporate lawyers than litigators. Statistics and other economic principles are also a large part of what I do. The best lawyers I know are very good at math. Finally, as a woman, being good at math gives you instant credibility in a room full of men. It also adds a great deal of confidence.

Anyone who is reasonably intelligent can be good at math. It might not come easily, but these are skills that can be learned like any other. And the fact that you AREN'T good at it is all the more reason not to give up on it. The last thing you want to teach your daughter is that she should only do things that come easily to her.

In fact, I think that's the strongest argument of all for math in your case. Even if she never needs math per se, learning how to master something that is difficult for her is a skill that is absolutely critical to her success in life.

PLEASE help your daughter. If she is good in humanities, she can be good in math. It sounds like she is asking for permission to close this door of opportunity for herself. Please keep it open for her.

-- My personal experience. I was good at math, but had a very negative attitude towards it. Being female, ALL my female friends reinforced this. Every one of them talked about how bad they were at it and how much they hated it. So I thought the same. It's common and stereotypical to believe that women are ''bad'' at math, but it isn't always true. The entire time I thought I was bad at math I was actually really good (I got a higher score on math on my SATs/GREs than English, even though I thought that would be reversed).

You say she has a good conceptual understanding of math. I think math is important in a few areas: 1) Finances. You don't have to be all that great at math to do well with your finances. Dave Ramsey's book ''the Total Money Makeover'' will teach you all you ever needed to know about how to manage money without being good or even decent at math. 2) Career. If your daughter has any desire to enter a field of technology or science-related, math is going to be essential. She's going to have to have a basic understanding of it in some sense. For me, I was a communication major in college, then ended up doing technical writing, which turns out you need to have a good basic understanding of math in order to figure out what you are writing about.

Now, having said that, how you learn and prove you know math in high school in college is much different from the real world. In business and jobs, there are a lot of different kind of learners and if she understands math with a different kind of learning style than the one in school, she will have opportunities to explore that, as needed, for her job. For me, engineers go through very basic diagrams and analogies to teach me concepts I've either long forgotten, never learned, or never understood. And they patiently try and try, while I ask questions, until I understand just enough to get by. So, if she is good at humanities, decent at math, can ask a lot of questions, and is aware of her learning style, she probably will have no trouble succeeding in life. But, she's maybe going to have to learn how to adapt to others and explain how she needs to be taught (including possibly in college) in order to get there. Not a mathlete, but getting by just fine

Hugs to you and your daughter. I very much sympathize and my opinion is to try not to sweat it. Nothing against math lovers, but we all have different strengths and, in the grand scheme of things, your life can be just fine even if your math skills are limited. I graduated magna cum laude, hold an MA from an Ivy League school, and am now a PhD candidate in the humanities. And I have dyscalculia. I have absolutely no concept of numbers. Even fairly simple calculations are difficult for me, as numbers hold no meaningful referent in my mind. It's hard to explain, but it's like numbers just produce a blank spot in my brain and the moment anything numerical comes up, regardless of context, my brain stops processing. I did horribly in math in school, horribly on the math portions of the SAT and GRE, but still managed to get accepted into one of the most prestigious graduate programs in the country. Focus on writing skills! Writing is what will take you far in both academia and life, and will compensate for any holes in your math ability. Seriously. Mathmatically challenged

I am a highly-educated student of the humanities and social sciences who feels enormously sad that I skipped out on math whenever I could. I had a choppy math career as a youngster due to a couple of long hospitalizations. Because I missed some of the rote memorization of math facts, I felt my friends were smart at math and I was not. Later, my parents let me drop out of high school math, given that I was a stellar reader and writer. I avoided all of it that I could in college, and later entered an Ivy League university PhD program in English Literature. Turns out I didn't love the world of literature. I got more interested in the world around me and entered a graduate program that required some statistics and economics. At that point I had to confront my lack of math background AND my well-honed math aversion. Yikes. I wish now that I had learned to struggle with my math confusion and work harder to figure things out. Also, I know enough about math now to realize that it is the source of amazing beauty and wonder, and I wish I could more fully appreciate it. Don't give up math!

I almost didn't reply until I got to the end, ''she needs to get into a really great college''...Having 3 in college or recently graduated and two in elementary school I can be brutally honest. Her SAT scores in all 3 areas are important. Her grades are important. Her Achievement tests are important, her AP grades are important but given ALL that there are MANY, MANY good schools and if she doesn't get into her first choice schools, will she be a failure??? HECK NO!I'd take the emphasis off great schools and look for GREAT SCHOOLS FOR YOU-UCLA had 55,000 applicants for 4000 spaces two years ago. My daughter just wrapped up her 2nd year @ Cornell-when she applied there was the biggest class EVER of applicants applying to college since they started tracking it in the 50's. She didn't get into all her schools and she worked her fanny off in high school, had an international baccalaureate, high SAT's and ACT's and her GPA was way over 4.0 due to the Honors/AP classes she took. It sounds like your daughter is going to major in anything BUT math? Start looking for colleges with STRONG liberal ARTS programs. IVY schools don't remotely insure a job in this economy so I wouldn't focus much on prestigious schools. My husband for financial reasons alone went to a 3rd tier medical school. He's the highest functioning doctor and go to guy in his practice and most his cohorts have an IVY degree on the wall. After college finishes it's all about your work ethic, that's the key, not the place that printed the paper. The biggest thing you can do is take the emphasis off of her shortcomings and focus on her strengths and find the best college FIT for her. good luk

Hello - This is not a response to the question you asked about the importance of math. I heard a very interesting interview yesterday on All Things Considered about the Khan Academy and how they use You Tube to teach math. It sounds like you have some resources already but you may want to have your daughter check it out. Sarah in Oakland

You'll probably get lots of thoughts on this from both sides. I feel pretty strongly that more women should do the quant side of work (because of the economic gains and the fun), but I also know it's not for everyone.

I read your post then picked up the paper and saw this article about benefits of particular engineering / business majors. These workers can earn up to 50% more than those with humanities degrees:

So this reminded me of a book ''What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20'' by Seelig. I have not read it but I have heard Seelig speak and I was impressed - and it might be a good level / perspective for a teenager.

I'll also offer this extended observation. Part 1 - I've worked pretty heavily in the engineering / analysis / business fields for almost 15 years. I've seen a fair share of ok smart, only-somewhat-engaged engineers, accountants, analysts who I suspect make a lot more than awesome smart, fun, on-top-of-it administrative assistants. Breaks my heart, really.

Part 2 - It's important to look at the full trajectory. There are those who work as an engineer / analyst / etc for a couple years, then move into business or management. I think it opens a lot of doors, and it is not about a whole lifetime of doing ''x''. It always changes, particularly in today's world. (sales, product management, software management, etc.)

Another piece I heard on radio talked a study result: those who graduate during a recession with certain humanities degrees *never* catch up to peers who graduate during a boom time. Their lives are on a completely different trajectory. (For scientists or engineers, it might take 10 years or something like that to catch up, wage-wise)

People can be successful with or without the math, right? tons of success stories. I think life is more risky for those who don't engage on the math/analytical side though. I heard or read a piece once that talked about how the US is the only country that makes fun of those who are good at math and almost encourages people to 'give up' on the math. I think the jokes on those who believe it. Good for you to get the tutor. Hope it works out well! a believer in the opportunities of math

Hi, I am someone that was never that great at math and was not pushed by my parents to improve my math skills in high school. My language skills were off the charts, so I think my parents decided the poor performance in math was no big deal. However, I think it has limited me and I wish I could go back and do it differently.

It's not the particular math subject itself that's important (algebra, trig, calculus or whatever else), it's the way that studying math teaches you to think. When you study math seriously and with dedication you begin to develop the skill of thinking analytically. Learning how to examine an issue from this perspective is an enormous asset in any field. My husband is a bioengineering PhD who has never taken a business class in his life, but he is currently being recruited by a major consulting firm because they are looking for people that can think analytically and problem solve. They recruit from the maths and sciences for this reason.

Math is really important, don't let your daughter miss out on this opportunity. I also agree that making jokes about it is only going to make things worse. Joking about it sends the message that it's not important. Just my opinion.

How important is math?

How important is literature? Music? Art? Most of us make it through an average day without producing any of these, and without truly needing to consume them, either. Presumably you wouldn't accept a tutor who used the phrase ''literature allergy'' or a parent who brags about sailing through life without reading. But you accept ignorance of the fields that make the modern world go round (and unlock how and why the actual world, you know, goes around)?

You simply cannot get more than a cursory appreciation for any sciences without a thorough grounding in mathematics. There are few serious challenges facing mankind whose cause or solution isn't intimately tied to scientific issues. These days, not being able to understand these things deeply pretty much robs you of being a fully informed and responsible citizen. People who do you grievous harm every day are counting (no pun intended) on your remaining scientifically and mathematically ignorant.

Mathematics (real mathematics, not mechanical 1+1 arithmetic -- having a similar distinction as literature versus basic literacy) is beautiful, enriching, one of the most uniquely human endeavours and one of the few that completely transcends historical and cultural boundaries.

If you're not numerate, you're not fully literate, either. Literate and numerate

I WAS your daughter. I went through my entire academic career TERRIFIED of math and fully convinced I wasn't capable of doing anything beyond the basics.

One thing that I always noticed though, and you alluded to in your post...math is power. The most lucrative, most solid careers are overwhelmingly math-based. Now, money isn't everything, and there are certainly a few careers where one can be successful (whether personally or conventionally) that don't involve math. But there aren't many. I realized at some point that I was so ''bad'' at anything quantitative because I was afraid of it. I consciously let explanations of math concepts float over my head, refusing to open my brain to the possibility that I could actually be competent in the subject.

Then, I realized that if I wanted the career I'd planned (management consulting), then I'd have to master the thing I was most afraid of. Now I'm considering getting another master's degree - this time in finance.

Your daughter needs to take a good hard look at what she wants to do as far as a career (yes, she's young, but it's not too early to start thinking of these things). For the vast majority of people just saying ''the humanities'' isn't going to cut it (although there is tremendous evidence that a liberal arts education is second to none in helping critical thinking skills). Maybe what she needs is to see the potential application of math before making a decision that it's not for her. If her dream has zero math involved, then that's good too - she'll know she doesn't have to worry about it! Embraced My Inner Math Geek

I would like to address a comment someone made in response to your question, just how important is math? IVY schools don't remotely insure a job in this economy so I wouldn't focus much on prestigious schools.

If one's goal in going to college is to be prepared for a specific job, one can go to vocational school! The purpose of an Ivy League education is to receive first rate, well rounded exposure to understanding the world we live in, and to develop an analytical and intellectually expansive mind. One learns to communicate and articulate one's thoughts, and certainly there is no guarantee of a job, but one's chances are vastly improved with a high quality education. A prestigious school does not just boast exceptional professors, but the quality of a greater percentage of students is exceptional as well. Ivy League students are highly vetted and the experience of meeting one's fellow students, making contacts that can last a lifetime, and learning from one's peers is that much more rewarding. Lastly, I will say, many top companies and institutions do hire from the Ivy League (they have college recruiting programs specifically for this), and often not in the exact field the student has majored in because they know that a well conditioned, well-trained mind is flexible, adaptable, analytical, can learn quickly and is an asset to the organization.

In conclusion I would say, math is very important---and tutoring for the SAT's might be very helpful. And where you go to school is important too. Just look at the percentage of graduates from Ivy League schools who have gone on to make significant contributions to the world. And this is not to say one can not get a good education or become a successful member of society going to a less prestigious school, but it would be very foolish indeed to discount the value of an Ivy League education! Fan of the Exercise of Undertanding

I'd say math is very important. It teaches one how to think. Obviously, knowing multiplication tables these days is superfluous, what with calculators and the web. But it's the logical thought process that you really can't get anywhere in as pure a form as you can from math. My opinion. Suzanne (not a mathematician!)


Bright daughter is deeply negative about math

April 2011

We have an issue that we could really use some help with; it concerns our daughter, who is currently a high school junior. She is a smart cookie, loves the humanities, excels in social sciences, is working on her third language. She has always always had a hard time in math, and due to some moves on our part, and changes in schools at crucial junctures, she's had some big disruptions in her study of math; these disruptions have created setbacks which have compounded her level of frustration and her profound sense of inadaquacy. She's never had a math class she especially liked, and in her freshman year in a local public school, she actually had a geometry teacher who barely spoke English, and that year did our daughter a great disservice, from which she has barely recovered. She is now working with an SAT tutor, but she is far behind her peers and so discouraged. We had hoped to do some cognitive testing, but it was too expensive and we weren't able to do the whole public school testing route to find out if she had some real learning differences in the subject. We joke that she has a math allergy (runs in the family on my side). But here with are, with the SAT's looming, and college applications on the immediate horizon, and the stakes are high, and she is so negative about her performance and so discouraged in this subject area, I just have no idea what to do for her. How important is this? What can I do to boost her self-esteem? I've been in touch of course with her teacher but he's not a lot of help and she feels he doesn't like her - I think he's just not sure how to reach her and doesn't put out a lot of effort to do so. She does really well on the Language Arts parts of the standardized tests she taken but dismally on the math. Now we're thinking about looking at colleges that don't give a lot of weight to SAT scores. But how limiting is that?? So we're in a bad, sad, upset place and the stakes are looking pretty high here. What to do, how can I help? Where to go from here? need to make some lemonade out of lemons here

Helping your daughter become more knowledgeable and confident in math should be the first step, the SAT the second step. I remember reading some posts that described excellent math tutors who helped students gain an understanding and ease with math that they lacked. And built great confidence in the students. See if you can find these recommendations from the past. If your student could work with an inspiring math tutor for the rest of the school year and over the summer too, going over concepts she didn't master in the past and beefing up her math abilities, that would allow her to take the SAT in the fall with a solid base behind her. Now is the time to do this. Anonymous

Sally Ride recently spoke at Berkeley and touched on this problem. She was at a science day for girls, and the mother proudly introduced her daughter as a math whiz while simultaneously distancing herself and her family from her daughter's achievements and, frankly, dismissing her skill: ''I don't know where she gets this math stuff - nobody in my family likes it'' and so forth.

And that, Ms. Ride stated, is a major reason why girls drop out of math in middle school when they did just fine in grade school.

Now, if your daughter was a concert pianist would you say ''I don't know where she gets that music talent - nobody in my family likes it''? Or would you curb such an absurd impulse because you know it would make you and her look like idiots?

Well, you've created a perfect case of math antipathy - dissing the skill while demanding she conquer it. And like any sensible kid, she's taken your excuses and used them to avoid facing the hard work required to master this field. Simply put, you created the problem because you illustrated perfectly that there was no need for math skills in your family. You made your bed of nails and now you don't like it.

OK - you screwed up. And now those nails are biting, because the SAT requires a decent math score to get into any reasonable university and she's got 5-6 years of math avoidance. Now you have to break the habit fast - and you're still acting badly: ''We joke that she has a math allergy (runs in the family on my side).''

Jokes don't encourage people to try harder. Stop it.

Math builds upon itself, so missing core elements creates great difficulty. The only course of action is simple: dedication to review over a period of a few years with a tutor. Only time and dedication will reveal what math essentials she's not getting, and only time and dedication will allow her to gain confidence in math.

Confidence is not ''given'' by mom. And she can't evade math proficiency in a global economy no matter *what* her future major. At Stanford Law School I reviewed work on statistical models using Bayesian filtering of discrimination incidents. In history the cutting-edge work deals with data crunching to reveal trends. Literature, political science, economics, urban planning - all quantitative.

Math skills matter. Keep with the tutor and give it the time it deserves - even if she delays going to college for a year or so. Better she goes to college confident of her abilities instead of habituated to excuses for hard work. Good Luck

To whomever wrote the ''tough love'' comment TO THE MOM and said: ''You made your bed of nails and now you don't like it. OK - you screwed up. And now those nails are biting''

That comment was spot on. No one, I mean no one would make jokes about being illiterate, but seemingly it is okay to be innumerate. Well, no it is not okay in today's world(and this is a life/job issue not an SAT issue.)

Basically, your daughter has to work hard to correct the problem. You would not be as relaxed about this if she could not read! Nor would you have let this fester for years. Now, this is not to say that you don't care. Obviously you care enough to post a question.

This is not to say that she should be subjected to drill and kill nor that it will be easy, but she and you need to work at fixing the problem, and yes it is a problem.

One thing I highly, highly recommend is using the's website. It's free; it's unbelievably good. Sign up on the practice tab and your daughter can start on it as far back as she needs to go, i.e. she can start at basic arithmetic and go through calculus. You can monitor her progress and achievement is reinforced. It is simply the best free tutoring on the web.

And by the way I used to be an English teacher, but I know how important math is! nr

I would suggest you try a private tutor who is experienced in working with girls such as your daughter. I would suggest that you choose a woman. I have found that I (and others) have been able to turn girl's attitudes around. Incidentally, it's not OK to even joke about her or your being unable to do math. That just reeinforces the opinion that others (probably including teachers) have given her. it is not true, In my experience, if the subject is approached the right way. Judith

Don't stress out too much about math, especially since your daughter shines academically in other areas. My son also hates math, always struggled with it, and did very badly on math standardized tests (he doesn't test that well on the other parts of the SAT, but better than math). He dropped math after Algebra II/Trig and did not take Pre-Calc. In spite of all this, he got into several excellent small colleges and received two academic merit scholarships. All of these schools saw his SAT scores, but it didn't seem to harm him too much. He is passionate about history and politics, and I think the colleges liked that. He did not apply to UC or Cal State because he wanted to go to a smaller school.

I would be happier if he did better at math, but it just isn't meant to be, and it would make all of us miserable if we expected him to excel at it. What's important is that he (like your daughter) has academic passions that he can pursue in college. Carrie


High school junior wants to drop pre-calculus class

Dec 2010

Our student would like to drop a pre-cal course because of bad grades and what it might do to their GPA. That means graduating with 3 math courses in HS. We're already omitting UC schools from consideration, but what does it do for their chances of being admitted to a CSU? Assume a GPA of under 3 and an SAT under 1000. frustrated parent

My son hated math, and it was always his worst grade. He completed Algebra II/Trig junior year, and did not want to continue with pre-calc senior year. We were concerned that this would hurt his college chances, but we let him do it. It was a very good choice. He's so happy not to be dragged down with the one subject that was always so difficult for him. It has freed up his time and his mood, and the rest of his grades went way up. He loves science and history, and this gave him more opportunity to shine in those subjects without the drain of struggling with math.

As for college prospects, he didn't apply to UC or CSU, but he's already been accepted to two excellent small liberal arts colleges and got a nice scholarship at one of them. He still has several more to hear from. (A friend of his has a less-than-3.0 GPA and got into Humboldt, so it is possible.) I am very happy that we released him from his math misery. It's Hard To Be Good at Everything


Alternative to Pre-Calculus in HS senior year?

Feb 2010

My high school junior son has been a struggling B-/C+ student in math throughout middle and high school, and is campaigning not to take pre-calc in his senior year. I understand this desire, but I don't want to harm his chances for getting into a good college if he skips a final year of math. One possibility that has been raised is taking statistics, which seems more appealing. He's passionate about history, so he can see how statistics would be applicable to his intended field of study, unlike pre-calc. His small high school does not offer statistics, however. I have only been able to find AP Statistics online, and am worried that it might be too difficult. Does anyone have any advice or experience with online courses, statistics in particular?

If your son is not excelling in mathematics and is interested in liberal arts (history, English, journalism), there is no reason at this time for him to take precalc senior year and get a lousy grade, nor take statistics online and get a lousy grade. Statistics is hard too. He should focus on his strengths at this point, and not his weakness.

The key determiners to getting into the college of his choice are good SAT (and SAT2 in some cases), GPA / coursework, and activities. If he did well (600+) on the math portion of the SAT and very well (650+) on the reading / essay portion, has taken and done well in courses like AP English with a good overall GPA, and he's done some extracurricular activities (debate?, speech?, community service? leadership?), he should talk to an adviser he trusts to guide him to apply to colleges which will suit his interests and will see him as an asset. He'll do fine, so stop worrying.

If he should decide later that his major requires statistics and he also needs precalc, most colleges nowadays offer precalc as well (even Berkeley does), or he can take it at a community college. My son had to satisfy the UC language req and decided to do it at DeAnza College over summer instead of UCLA because it was more economic and allowed him to focus on his major at UCLA. There are many options at this stage, but the best advice I ever heard from a councilor was ''Trust your kid - they're moving into adulthood and need to make their own decisions''. Good luck. Lynne

I have heard so many students cry when they realized their non-calculus statistics course was not enough to carry them through college that I couldn't help but respond to your inquiry. Yes, you can find some online statistics courses through DVC and some other community colleges. They don't require calculus. Will they prepare your son for the AP exam? Maybe. ETS doesn't require calculus for the exam.

However, here's something to consider. I have run into many students who were social science and statistics majors but who had only taken a course in non-calculus-based statistics. They thought that they could get away with it because statistics and calculus are two different subjects. However, you need calculus to do statistics.

Your son might be putting the cart before the horse here. IMHO, he should be taking pre-calculus or at least know that he will have to take it very soon. Otherwise, his effort may be wasted. There are No Shortcuts

My daughter took Alg 2 junior year and Calc senior year. She didn't take pre-calc at all. She did well. Angela


Calculus and college admission

Jan 2009

My daughter is a sophomore in high school and was accelerated in middle school such that she is now taking precalculus this year. She is very bright but will be going a liberal arts direction in college (she is an excellent writer and has considered creative writing). Math is not a strong point for her and while she is quite competent, she struggles a bit to keep up. I have heard varying reports from high school counselors that to get into the top UC schools, students must take calculus. I would like to know if this is true even if the student isn't likely to go into math/science as a major? She's having such a hard time this year and I hate to put so much pressure on her to perform decently so it doesn't hurt her GPA. Should she take calculus next year? Are there any other options? Jennifer

Both of my daughters got into U C Davis,Irvine, Santa Barbara and some less competitive UCs without Calculus, 5 years apart from each other. They did not get into UCLA, UC San. Diego or UC Berkeley.The stress of taking calculus just was not worth it and they have no regrets. Elle

I've worked with several kids in your daughter's situation; some who pushed through Calc A-B and some who chose not to. All of them got into several good schools and were able to be selective. As a college counselor, my advice to kids and parents is that there is no ''formula'' that colleges are looking for when it comes to top students who have excellent grades, extra-curriculars, etc. I've heard this time and again from admissions folks, especially those at the smaller liberal arts schools. Completing the highest level of math available is no guarantee of admission or necessarily even desirable. Colleges will be looking to see if your daughter took the most rigorous curriculum available to her (particularly in her senior year), but ''rigorous'' can be interpreted in many ways. Maybe she will take AP classes. Maybe she'll take community college classes (I once had a student who got into Harvard with no AP classes whatsoever, but a broad range of community colleges classes under her belt). In short, your daughter should take classes that reflect her interests and future goals. If she's shooting for a liberal arts college with no intention of studying math/science, I'd consider freeing up the time and energy she'd place on Calc to explore other subjects at either the AP or college level. My belief is that this approach will serve her well not only in terms of being accepted to the colleges of her choice, but will give her the tools she'll need to be successful in higher education and her future career. Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like to talk further. Best of luck to your daughter! Lora

I can't say what the UCs want, but as a parent of a senior I would say that she should take classes that she is interested in. She will be more engaged, interested, and will care what grade she gets more than if she's taking a class she doesn't really like and is just doing it for the grade!

I wanted my daughter to take AP stats in 12th grade but she decided not to at the last minute. She's taking all classes that she wants and is doing really well. Point in case.

When your daughter's a senior, I can highly recommend her taking the ''writing short stories'' class. If she likes creative writing this is IT! Actually, this is probably the ONLY class my daughter took in 4 years where she did any creative writing. anon

Both of my kids took AP Statistics instead of calculus. One went to UCSC and the other to UCD. I think that for non-math/science types, statistics is actually a very useful subject. Wish I had been offered it when I went to high school. (Both struggled with math analysis but did fine with statistics.) Sally


4-year college without high school math?

Oct 2007

Hello all. I am wondering if my HS junior can possibly get into a 4 year college (probably a state college due to finances) without taking all the maths required (geometry and algebra 2). She has a difficult time with math, even with tutoring. She has A's and B's in all her other classes. Does she have to go thru the community college route, I assume take the 2 maths there, and then transfer? Also, is DVC the best 2 year college around, as I've been hearing or are the other junior colleges just as good (and closer to home). Thanks. mom of junior high schooler

A parent wanted to know if her child could be admitted to a 4-year California state college directly following high school without having taken geometry and algebra II. The answer is no. Three years of math are required for both the CSU and UC systems, specifically algebra I, algebra II, and geometry. For a list of this and other admission requirements for the CSU system, go to the website. Click on ''Plan'' on the lower left, then click on ''Admission Requirements.'' Then click on ''High School Students.'' Under ''Freshman Admissions Requirements,'' click on ''Specific high school courses,'' which details the courses required. Anonymous

Hi -- Berkeley High also offers an IMP (Interactive Mathematics Program) curriculum. IMP 2 counts as year 2 in the UC/CSU required college sequence. IMP 3 counts as year 3 in the UC/CSU required college sequence. IMP4 counts as year 4 in the UC/CSU required college sequence. After IMP4, the student would take Statistics or Calculus A/B. Flora Russ -- Berkeley High School


Geometry over the summer, Algebra 2 in the 9th grade?

March 2008

My son will be a freshman this fall. He current takes Algebra 1 now. I would like him who complete Geometry this summer and take Algebra 2 in the 9th grade. I need some advices. Middleschool Parent

It depends on how much your son likes math. IF he LOVES math and IF you have him do geometry either in a high school or at ATDP, it's a good idea. It also might be a good idea if he is pretty sure he wants to go into engineering or a hard science. Otherwise, you may be putting him in a position of taking more math than he really wants to take as selective colleges will expect him to take math each year of high school. Judith, former math dep't head BHS

I think that if your child is motivated to do this ( or any educational activity) run with it unless it is totally inappropriate. Actually both my kids ended up taking geometry in 8th grade and so did honors Algebra 2/trig in 9th and did fine. Good luck! jenny

To add to my last message. If your son is not motivated and it is coming from YOU ONLY I would not do it. As they get to be teens I think they need to know that their parents trust their judgement on an increasing number of things Jenny